Recently I listened to the Wanderer leitmotif from Wagner's Ring cycle. I was both impressed and perplexed by the motif's harmony. The picture below tries to explain the possible modulations that this motif implies. It's quite pedantic, since I think most perfect cadences weren't necessary, but I wanted to establish the tonality and then modulate to a new key center.

The Wanderer motif: Wagner - Wanderer motif

and the short piece I wrote:

enter image description here

Explanation of symbols:

  • +M is the Medianté (is it called chromatic mediant in English?), i.e. the III degree chord of a major scale with a major third (e.g., the +M of C major is E major),
  • oTr is the chord that's relative (r) to T minor (o=minor and T=tonic). To explain it more accurately, the oTr chord of D (major or minor) is F major.
  • oSr is the same as oTr, where S stands for subdominant. For example, the oSr chord of C (major or minor) is Ab major, i.e., the relative key of F minor (IV of C minor).

Lastly, as I haven't found the above symbols elsewhere except in my Harmony textbook: are there any equivalent symbols to describe these chords in the international music bibliography?

1 Answer 1


Interesting exercise!

I see two questions in your text:

"is it called chromatic mediant in English?"

Yes; although the term "chromatic mediant" can mean a few chords, this chord would be one of them. Some theorists (like David Kopp) would call this an "upper sharp mediant," because it's the chord built on the upper mediant and it involves raising pitches.

"are there any equivalent symbols to describe these chords in the international music bibliography?"

You're using Riemannian function labels, which should be understood by someone in academic music theory. But a non-academic in America almost certainly wouldn't recognize them. If you want a more universal system that others will understand, I would recommend using Roman numerals for most of these chords. The B major chord in m. 3, for instance, would be III♯, because it's built on scale-degree 3 (hence III), and the ♯ shows that you raise the chordal third to D♯, thus making it major. The B♭ chord in m. 9, since you're in D major, would be ♭VI6: ♭VI because it's built on the lowered scale-degree 6 in D, and 6 because it's in first inversion.

  • After reading stevtomato's comment on the YouTube video, I think the most easy way to understand how it works is the following: First two bars are in A major, the rest are in G major. The sequence has this chord progression: V/V -> IV -> II Neap. -> V. Thus, between the first and the last chord, the music "wanders", since it doesn't go straight from V/V to V. And the whole "magical sound" of this motif is maybe due to the false relation between the D# in the bass on the first chord and the D in the upper voice on the second chord.
    – George
    Jan 22, 2019 at 21:31

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